By 1969, Herbert Quandt could barely see to work.
The German industrial titan had taken control of a moribund BMW a decade earlier, just to keep it out of the clutches of Daimler-Benz, and he had put the company on solid footing.
But Quandt had been plagued with poor eyesight since childhood, and at 59, his vision had deteriorated to the point that he evaluated car designs by having scale models made so he could rub his hands over the contours.
His wife, Johanna, read all important business correspondence to him. And he formed opinions and made decisions based on the subtle notes he heard in the voices of his executives.
At the Frankfurt auto show in September 1969, Quandt announced he would turn over the reins to a little-known, 41-year-old machine tool executive: Eberhard von Kuenheim.
The choice bewildered the German auto industry and infuriated many of the company's top brass. But there was something about von Kuenheim's solemn baritone. He came from proud Prussian stock, and his slow, measured, elegant speech filled the sightless Herbert Quandt with vision and confidence.
Von Kuenheim would remain in the job from 1970 to 1993. Indeed, only Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors stayed longer among CEOs of major carmakers who didn't own their companies. And probably no single car brand ever advanced in public esteem as much as BMW did during von Kuenheim's 23-year span.
Still, BMW's senior leaders at the time deemed the young engineer unqualified. The new man clashed immediately with the company's most prominent executive -- sales chief Paul Hahnemann, a central figure in the first decade of BMW's revival under Quandt.
Famously, Hahnemann called von Kuenheim's appointment "the most expensive apprenticeship program in the car industry."
Germany's automotive press initially dismissed the new man as a kind of glorified clerk serving the owner. But von Kuenheim's elevation to power was no fluke. Two years earlier, Quandt had given him a daunting assignment -- take charge of Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe Augsburg, a troubled machine tool company in the Quandt group. Von Kuenheim quickly returned the firm to profitability, and he soon put his stamp on BMW.